So I was trying to piece together this Ed Champion thing, mostly based on my Twitter feed. But (as I stated on Twitter), it’s a bit like surveying the aftermath of an A-bomb and trying to figure out what had been there before everything went to hell.
Best I can tell, Ed Champion—of whom I’d never heard until all this happened, which probably just goes to show how outside publishing politics I am—is/was best known as a kind of cranky book reviewer (or hater, as the case may be). And then . . . Something happened and he ended up publicly blackmailing a female writer on Twitter. Seriously.
I’ve yet to put together the steps that led from “cranky sourpuss” to “extortionist,” but words like “misogyny” are being tossed around. Champion evidently doesn’t like women writers? Or women in general?
That’s fine, actually. He has the right to hate every book and writer in the world if it makes him feel better about himself. And he has the right to voice his opinion. Just like everyone else has the right to ignore him. Or hate him in turn.
It’s the blackmail that’s disturbing. As I’ve said, I haven’t pieced together the entire story, but it seems Champion threatened to tweet the name of a photographer who had taken nude pictures of a female writer . . . I just can’t quite wrap my brain around what prompts a person to go from A to Z that way. The leap from, “I don’t like this book and/or writer” to “I’m going to blackmail you” is bizarre to me.
But really, what I meant to write about it that after I tweeted about trying to understand what had happened, someone responded with a boast about having given over 500 one-star reviews on Amazon. This guy was really proud of the fact that he’d done this, and was apparently annoyed that Champion was getting all the credit as “most hated man.” Um . . . I don’t think it takes any special talent or skill to give one-star reviews, or to hate books and writing. It does take a lot of free time, I suppose. And that’s assuming this person actually read the books in question and wrote coherent reviews (I didn’t bother to check).
The reviewing system is fucked up. I think we all know that. Anyone can review something, and many reviews are not legitimate. Instead they are written out of hate, or spite, or jealousy. Or they’re written to manipulate the system and send certain books up and down the lists. Bottom line: readers can no longer rely on reviews to guide them toward good books and away from bad ones. But maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe it’s better to select books based on personal taste and preference rather than the number of stars next to its title. After all, when you walk into a bookstore (do you ever any more?), aside from the Recommendations shelf, there are not reviews posted next to every book. Instead you browse, picking this or that up, until you find something that suits your taste.
Or maybe you go looking for a book a friend recommends. Word of mouth is not the same as random reviews, by the way. A friend knows what you may or may not like. The best collective reviews can do is tell you what the collective hive mind of the masses most enjoys. Or doesn’t, as the case may be.
Better, perhaps, to find something you like—a few things, really—and extrapolate from there. That is, find other things in the same vein. Of course, if you’re like me and like a lot of different things, that can be trickier.
Sometimes—I’ve noticed this with film reviewers anyway—you find a reviewer who shares your tastes and come to trust him or her when s/he issues a proclamation regarding the latest blockbuster or indie rom-com. Is it possible to find a book reviewer whose palate matches yours?
And then, as with food, it also depend on what you’re “in the mood for.” A book you can’t enjoy now may be something you do enjoy later.
I don’t have an answer for fixing the reviews problem. What we have doesn’t work, but then there come the screams of not censoring anyone, and the difficulties of sussing out which reviews are legitimate and what the criteria should be. Like with Ed Champion—one can’t argue that he shouldn’t be allowed to blog his opinions about books and writers, however awful he is. We aren’t required to listen to him if we don’t want to. Issuing threats and blackmailing, however, was crossing a line. We can agree on that, I think. But where are the lines for reviewers? How do we figure out who to listen to? There’s a lot of noise online, and it’s getting increasingly difficult to separate the worthwhile from the discordant jangle.